Tomorrow, Nigerians in 29 states will file out, once again, to exercise their franchise in the last lap of this year’s election programme. It is a day to elect governors and members of the House of Assembly, who will run the show in the affected states for the next four years, starting from May 29. Coming two weeks after the presidential election, there are expectations that the elections would afford the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the opportunity to correct some of the lapses of the last exercise.
To be sure, the presidential and National Assembly elections came with challenges. There were problems of malfunctioning smart card readers, late arrival or non-arrival of election materials, political thugs snatching and destroying ballot boxes and ballot papers and other sundry matters. Despite these, the elections were done, won and lost. President Muhammadu Buhari was declared winner of the presidential election and reelected, having scored the highest number of votes, totally 15 million. His main challenger, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who garnered 11 million votes to come second, is at the tribunal to contest the outcome of the election. Whatever it is worth, there is peace in the country at present, even when some are rejoicing for their political victory, while others are grieving for failing to realise their ambitions.
In tomorrow’s election, the INEC is expected to correct some of its mistakes, so that the outcome would be better. The electoral commission has already made promises in this regard. It has also promised to take measures to ensure better elections. For one, the INEC has said the smart card readers would be a central figure in tomorrow’s election. According to its officials, results of any place where the card readers are not used would not be accepted. As noble and forthright as this decision is, the INEC should understand that smart card readers may malfunction owing to two things: Sabotage or technical issues. With this at the back of our minds, the question is: Where it is a genuine technical problem leading to the malfunctioning of the card readers, what would happen? Would it be a case of no election? Or would there be elections but no results? Or would elections hold and results accepted?
It is also heart-warming that security agencies have promised to take action to forestall the security breaches experienced during the February 23, 2019, elections. The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammad Adamu, said there would be more deployment of police personnel in states considered to be hotbeds. The army has said it would continue to be involved in elections to ensure that the exercise is done in peacefully. These are great. However, the police and the army should do more to protect INEC officers, ad hoc officials, voters and election materials. The security agencies should, however, not be an instrument through which political parties and some politicians would have an advantage over others. There are allegations that soldiers and policemen were used to perpetrate election fraud during the presidential and National Assembly elections. If this is true, it should be forestalled. If it is not true, such things should never be allowed to happen.
The army and police authorities should, therefore, keep tabs on their deployed personnel and commanders so that they would not be compromised on Election Day. The security agents should be more active and professional. Since security personnel are not supposed to be armed at the polling units, measures should be taken to ensure that armed teams at strategic locations respond to emergencies with the speed of light. Their contact numbers should be made public, so that electoral officers and voters would have and use them appropriately. That way, any security issue arising from polling units would be reported and promptly addressed as soon as they happen.
There has been apprehension that there could be voter apathy in the governorship and House of Assembly elections owing to issues of security. It is feared that some voters would not turn up because of some bad experiences in the previous elections. This fear may be founded. One thing that is for sure is that there has always been reduction in the number of voters after the presidential poll has been bone. This is simply because Nigerians are more interested in who becomes president than those to be governors. This is primarily because most voters register and vote in places they live in and not in their states of origin and do not care much about who is at the apex of government outside their home states.
Having said this, I believe that the experiences of February 23, especially where some voters were forcefully not allowed to exercise their civic duty or where their valid votes were destroyed owing to their political affiliation, could have served as a lesson and eye-opener to most people. From the outcome and voting pattern in some parts of the country, Nigerians appear to have learnt that politics is really a game. Therefore, all Nigerians of voting age have to key in and play the game. Before the presidential election, everybody could have sworn that the majority of Yoruba would align with the All Progressives Congress (APC). The results, however, showed that there are also many supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as there are APC supporters in the South West. The Yoruba played the politics game, which the Igbo and non-indigenes in places they reside failed to do.
The lesson, therefore, for the Igbo and other non-indigenes outside their states of origin is to adopt this behaviour and be more politically pragmatic. They should play the game of politics, which is like “the more you look, the less you see.” They should not be predictable. Instead of the visible vehement stand against a particular political party, there should be some liberalism and masked disposition. They could even align publicly but have what they want to do in their minds. That’s politics.
Be that as it may, it must be said that tomorrow’s election would not be about political parties, but individuals, in some states. Voters would look at the candidates’ pedigree and what they have to offer. The battle, therefore, will not be strictly between APC and PDP, as was seen in the presidential election. The result of the National Assembly elections, wherein candidates of some new and ‘weak’ political parties won in areas ordinarily considered PDP or APC strongholds, is an indication of what may happen in the governorship and state House of Assembly elections in some states.
States where this may play out include Abia, where APC won senatorial and House of Representatives seats, through former governor and senator-elect for Abia North, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. Here the personalities of Kalu and the APC governorship candidate, Dr. Uche Ogah, that of APGA candidate, Alex Otti, and governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, would be the determining factor. I also see this playing out in Imo State, where Governor Rochas Okorocha is pushing the aspiration of his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, through AA. The contest is among Senator Hope Uzodinma (APC), former Governor Ikedi Ohakim (Accord); Senator Ifeanyi Araraume (APGA), former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha (PDP) and Nwosu (AA). In this battle, the personality of the contestants and their backers would play a significant role.
In Ogun State, it is a battle of personalities, with Governor Ibikunle Amosun (APC/APM), former governor of the state, Aremo Segun Osoba (APC), ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole of Action Democratic Party (ADP) and Senator Buruji Kashamu (PDP) testing their worth and popularity. Amosun is the prime mover of APM, where he is sponsoring his preferred candidate, Adekunle Akinlade, who was denied the ticket in APC. Aremo Osoba is one of the forces behind APC in Ogun. Chief Alani Bankole, who is popular in his own right, is behind the ADP, while Kashamu is for PDP. Here, the political strengths of the personalities involved would be the determining factor, not the political parties.
Whatever happens tomorrow, Nigerians can’t wait for this “political cup” to pass over them. The elections have generated so much tension and anxiety. The elections have divided families, clans, tribes and the nation. The elections should pass, so that we can go back to our normal lives.